My process of concocting fiction from fact is based upon immersion. The research habits I follow now are identical to the ones I used when performing in period plays. I frequently worked with a director who required his actors to create a complete and detailed character profile for each and every role. And because I had parts in plays from Shakespeare to Moliere to the Restoration to Sheridan's 18th century comedies of manners to Chekhov's Russia to World War I, research into past times was essential. Digging into social history, biography, and fashion history became second nature.
On stage I was also wearing the clothes, whether restrictive (corsets!) and billowing (full skirts), learning how to move and to speak. (I still sometimes have occasion to dress in period costume, as the recent photo indicates!)
As a scholar of the Tudor, Stuart, and Georgian eras, I regularly sought information in libraries and special collections and art galleries.
I continue to haunt the most renowned research institutions--the British Library, the Public Record Office, the Folger Library, and so many more, studying orginal documents and such primary sources as manuscripts, prints, and maps. But my interest is no longer purely academic. I'm seeking facts as foundation to my story world, and everything I learn is filtered through my imagination. As novelist, I have a license to make things up.
For Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr, I had the advantage of personal experience working on film sets. In addition, I could access several significant published biographies, her filmography, a book about her invention, several documentary films, interviews with her children, autobiographies of her co-inventor George Antheil, and of one of her husbands. I trawled through reminiscences of the actors, directors, producers, publicists, writers, and photographers who worked with Hedy or encountered her. The richest primary sources were the newspapers and fan magazines that documented her rise to stardom and her impact. Some of the most interesting facts contained in my fictional work are those that either eluded her biographies, or which they considered less interesting than I did. For Hedy’s life in Austria I relied on contemporaneous press accounts and histories of the pre-Anschluss era, and memoirs written by people she knew when living there.
The greatest visual records of Hedy Lamarr are the multitude of glamor portraits and her films. I repeatedly watched the ones that fit within the framework of my novel. It was like being back in my graduate film studies classes, with out having to write a thesis--and no grades!